Dips, slumps, growth and peaks: talking about data (2)

Sasirin Pamai/EyeEm/Getty Images

by Liz Walter

Last month, I spoke about general words connected with data. This post covers ways of talking about what we can see from data, particularly when numbers increase, decrease or remain the same. For anyone doing IELTS, this should be useful vocabulary to learn!

At the most basic level, we can say that a number or level goes up or goes/comes down, or even that something is up/down. We often use the preposition by to talk about the amount of change:

The number of homeless people has gone up this year.

Sales were down by over 15% last month.

Other common verbs to use when numbers go up are rise, increase, grow or climb:

These figures show that unemployment is still rising.

Deaths have climbed to their highest level since 2005.

When numbers go down, we use verbs like fall, drop, dip, decline, decrease or reduce:

We can see that these new procedures have reduced the number of late trains.

The rate of infection has declined.

We often use the noun forms of these words too:

This graph shows a growth in profits.

There has been a reduction in the number of children being immunized.

Slump (verb and noun) is also used when levels or numbers go down, but only when the decrease is unwanted:

Newspapers are reporting a slump in the price of oil.

If we say that numbers spike or that there is a spike in numbers, we mean that they suddenly reach an unusually high level, and if they peak or reach a peak, they get to their highest level:

Calls to the helpline spiked last week.

Some investors believe these share prices have reached a peak.

If a number reaches a particular high level, we say it hits it, and if it goes above that level, it tops it.

Temperatures are set to hit record levels this summer.

Membership has now topped 100,000.

When numbers or levels do not change much, we say they plateau. In the context of Covid-19, we often hear experts saying that we need to flatten the curve, meaning to cause cases to increase gradually rather than suddenly:

The increase in obesity has begun to plateau.

Self-isolation will help to flatten the curve of infections.

When we see a general pattern in figures, we often talk about a trend or a trajectory, particularly an upward or downward trend/trajectory:

Infections rose yesterday, but overall we are seeing a downward trend.

We are now on a trajectory to meet our targets.

And finally, we often use adjectives and their related adverbs to talk about the speed or intensity of a rise or fall in numbers. For big changes, we use adjectives like sharp or steep or significant. Gradual changes happen slowly, while rapid or sudden changes happen quickly:

There has been a sharp fall in visitor numbers.

Wage levels have risen rapidly in the last five years.

I hope you find these words and phrases useful. We must all hope for a significant decrease in Covid-19 soon. Stay safe!

13 thoughts on “Dips, slumps, growth and peaks: talking about data (2)

    1. Briki

      It’s also the understandable language used in statistics,economics,epidemiology.. to explain charts,graphs…Thank you forsharing

  1. Ricardo Lira

    Hi, congratulations!!!! This was one of your best posts. All the words are very much part of what’s happening now on this pandemic. I watch international news on a daily basis and I must say I’ve heard most of these words.

  2. Rumyana

    I am an old lady that uses English language for reading mainly posts in Facebook. My language skills are falling dawn and the language is developing quckly. Your posts are useful for me and refreshing. I am so happy to be on your list. Your true fan. Rumyana. Thank you.

  3. “we often use adjectives and their related adverbs to talk about the speed or intensity of a rise or fall in numbers.”
    What is the difference if I wrote ‘. . . a rise or fall in NUMBER?’
    I read some articles using a singular number. Which one is more natural?

    Thank you for the great article. 🙂

  4. Liz Walter

    The singular sounds a bit more formal – it is using an uncountable sense of ‘number’ to mean ‘all numbers’.

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